Learn About Section 8 Housing Assistance

The Section 8 Housing Program is a federally funded low income housing program intended for families whose gross annual income falls below the average in their area or county of residence. Low-income and extremely low-income families in the United States that need help paying rent can apply for the Section 8 program if they meet all eligibility requirements and submit the necessary documents.

Besides income limits, low income housing applicants will be assessed on the basis of family composition, family size, spending habits, criminal charges, eviction history and more. Families who are eligible for Section 8 low income housing receive the assistance in the form of special housing vouchers that are issued by public housing agencies. PHAs receive the funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The vouchers are used to pay a portion of the rent directly to the landlord, and the money cannot be accessed or withdrawn by the tenant.

Eligible families for the low income housing program are put on a waiting list in their area, and when they reach the top of the list, the PHA performs an eligibility verification to make sure they still meet all requirements. However, Section 8 waiting lists are long and waiting times can sometimes reach several years, so it is very common for a family to become ineligible in the meantime.

If a family is granted a housing voucher, it must continue to meet the eligibility requirements in order to keep receiving assistance. Families can also participate in special self-sufficiency programs to learn how to become financially stable and not depend on government assistance.

To learn more about Section 8 low income housing in the U.S., explore the sections below:

  • What is Section 8 housing in the U.S.?
  • What are housing choice vouchers?

What is Section 8 housing in the U.S.?

In the United States, many families who live in low income housing are not able to afford decent homes and are forced to live in substandard units that do not meet health and safety requirements. If a family’s annual income is lower than the average income in the area, the family is eligible to apply for government assistance, or more specifically, for the Section 8 housing program. The goal of the federally funded Section 8 program is to provide financial assistance to eligible low-income families that will allow them to find a decent rental home in a good neighborhood and pay a portion of the rent through a housing voucher.

Locally, the Section 8 low income housing program is administered by public housing agencies that determine eligibility and issue the vouchers. By helping families afford a decent home in a safe neighborhood, the federal government directly contributes to a better quality of life and more opportunities for these families. Eventually, many families learn how to become financially stable and are no longer dependent on government assistance.

To be eligible for Section 8 low income housing, families must earn 80 percent of the average area income. Very low-income families earn half of the median area income, while extremely low-income households earn 30 percent of the average income in their area. The latter are given preference for Section 8 housing vouchers and are moved to the top of the waiting list. PHAs are required to grant 75 percent of the low income housing vouchers to extremely low-income families. Average income amounts are different in all states and counties and are published by PHAs each year.

Besides income limits, families applying for Section 8 low income housing are assessed based on family size, family constitution, lifestyle, spending habits, eviction history, assets and citizenship. The public housing agency will gather information about you and your family income through banks, employers and other local agencies to confirm your eligibility.

However, the PHA has the right to grant local preferences whenever it is deemed necessary. Namely, some families need low income housing assistance more than others and, depending on the location and average area income, the PHA may give preference to a homeless family, a family that pays more than 50 percent of its income on rent or a family that has been involuntarily displaced. As Section 8 housing vouchers are in great demand, PHAs reserve the right to close the waiting list and not receive any more applications. In certain states, the waiting lists have been closed for years.

What are housing choice vouchers?

The United States federal government created the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program to provide financial assistance to low-income families, disabled individuals and elderly citizens unable to pay rent. The main goal of the program is to help low-income families find a rental home by providing a section of the rent through a housing choice voucher. Program participants are able to look for a home in the private market to fit their family size and needs and do not have to settle for subpar or unsanitary homes.

If you are granted a low income housing voucher, you can start looking for a good home. Once you have found an affordable yet decent rental unit, the PHA will perform a health and safety inspection to make sure that the home is livable and up to par on all PHA sanitary standards. Rental units can be townhouses, apartments or single-family homes, depending on the family’s size and preference. In addition, the home does not need to be located in a low-income neighborhood or a subsidized housing project. To rent the home, the landlord simply must accept tenants who are receiving Section 8 assistance.

The rent amount is paid partially by the low income housing voucher and partially by the tenants. The Section 8 voucher is used to pay for the housing subsidy, and the remaining amount is paid by the tenants. Typically, the family pays 30 percent of its monthly gross income for rent and utility bills, and in case the rent amount is higher than the standard, the family is responsible for paying the remaining amount. Still, applicants cannot access or withdraw the money and can only use the Section 8 low income housing voucher to pay a defined part of the rent directly to the landlord.